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Seven Important Things I’ve Learnt from Eleven Years of Freelance Blogging

Have you ever thought of giving paid blogging a go?

Maybe you see it as a means to an end, or perhaps a handy way to make some extra money to support your own blog.

But paid blogging can also be a great way to super-charge your growth as a blogger. I’ve been a paid blogger for more than 11 years, and in that time I’ve learnt all sorts of useful things.

Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how dozens of blogs work introduced me to lots of tips and tools. And many of the things I’ve learnt over the past 11 years have been invaluable.

Here’s some of the top lessons I’ve learnt, both big and small.

Lesson #1: How to Keep Coming Up With Ideas

Some blogs assign me a list of posts to write. But others want me to come up with my own ideas.

If you think coming up with ideas for your own blog is tough, try coming up with ideas for half-a-dozen blogs belonging to other people.

But pitching ideas as a freelancer has definitely helped me get to grips with the idea-generation process. These days I have no problem sitting down and listing a whole bunch of ideas. And I’m pretty fast at evaluating which ones are workable and which ones aren’t.

Lesson #2: How to Meet Deadlines

Before I got into paid blogging, I was fairly good at meeting deadlines as a student. But the freelancing gigs I’ve undertaken have definitely honed my deadline-meeting skills.

The biggest tip I picked up here is to always allow an extra day or two. If I think I can have a post done by Thursday, I’ll promise to send it by the end of Friday. That way, if it all goes smoothly I can turn it in early. (Editors love this.) And if something unexpected crops up, I can still meet the deadline.

It’s amazing how often editors talk about writers not reliably meeting deadlines, or even blowing off assignments altogether. Being able to consistently hit deadlines can help you stand out as a great blogger to work with.

Lesson #3: How to Avoid Hitting “Publish” by Mistake

This is a small one. But trust me, it’s crucial.

If you’re working on a draft, or using a draft WordPress post to store notes for yourself or someone else you’re working with, the last thing you want is to accidentally make it live on your blog.

(Yes, you can unpublish a post. But it will have already gone out by RSS and potentially by email, depending on how you have everything set up.)

One of my editors had a brilliant hack for this: he set the date of the post for way in the future. That way, there’s no publish button – just a “schedule” button that won’t publish anything if it’s pressed accidentally. Genius!

Lesson #4: How to Adapt My Voice to Suit Different Blogs

I’ve written for dozens of blogs over the years. Some like chatty, breezy content. Some prefer a just-the-facts tone. And some like their writers to dig deep with personal anecdotes.

Writing for a range of sites – both under my own name and as a ghostwriter – has helped me learn to adapt my voice to what editors want.

It’s given me a greater understanding of nuance, and helped me shape my words more carefully. It’s also helped me think about how I naturally write versus how my ghostwriting clients might write or speak.

Lesson #5: How a Strong Editorial Process Makes a Huge Difference

One of the blogs I write for, Craft Your Content, has a fantastic editorial process. They coordinate everything through Trello cards. As soon as I pitch an idea they like, they create a card for it and assign it to me.

I write the first draft, and once that’s turned in a content editor does an overall edit of the post. I review the edits – often rewriting a few paragraphs or adding some new material based on the editor’s suggestions – and then the post gets assigned to a line editor. I review the edits again, and it’s passed to the proofreader. And then, after a final review from me, it’s ready to go.

I love this process. My posts are invariably stronger for it, which makes me look good.  Plus, it’s really helpful to get this kind of detailed editorial feedback. It helps me see where my posts are flowing smoothly, and where I need to tweak things.

Lesson #6: How to Format Posts Consistently Across a Blog

Some blogs I write for have dozens of writers working for them. One has a detailed template for writing their “best of” posts that round up the top 25 or 50 products in a specific category. The template tells me, paragraph by paragraph (almost line by line), what to include.

It probably took a lot of time to come up with that template in the first place. And I’m sure the details have been tweaked and expanded over time to keep writers on track. But clearly using a template like this makes for a truly professional blog, with readers knowing exactly what to expect from each post.

All the little variations you might get with multiple writers (headings in sentence case instead of title case, using H3 for subheadings instead of H2, and so on) are ironed out by the template.

Other blogs I’ve worked with have style guides or checklists to follow. And they’ve all helped me realise just how useful templates and checklists are – even if you’re just writing for your own blog.

Lesson #7: How to Feel Comfortable Writing for Big Audiences

One fear some bloggers have is how people will react to their writing. What if their post gets some negative comments? What if someone sends a nasty email? The thought of having their work read by thousands of people seems daunting. And it can really hold them back from growing their blog.

As a freelancer, your work will inevitably go out to a fairly large audience. (A blog with a tiny audience wouldn’t be able to pay for it). And while it may feel a bit daunting to begin with, you’ll soon get used to your words being read by a lot of people.

And remember: if someone’s paying you and publishing your work on their site, it means your writing really is good enough.

If you’ve never considered paid blogging before, I hope you’ll give it some thought. I stumbled into it by accident 11 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.

Even if your main focus is your own blog, taking on a few paid blogging clients can help you learn and grow so much faster. You’ll quickly get used to working with and writing for sites much bigger than your own.

If you’re a paid blogger, I’d love to hear how long you’ve been writing for blogs (whether it’s a few weeks or a few years) and the lessons you’ve learnt along the way. Just pop a comment in below to tell us.

For more of my advice on how to get paid blogging jobs check out ProBlogger’s Ultimate Guide to Freelance Writing.

Image credit:J. Kelly Brito

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